as I pass by the towering feed bins on ranches
and observe the automatic feeders in ranch pickups, I shake my head
remembering the good old days. Like all progress, the evolution
of ranch livestock feeding has changed greatly, and for the better.
Our former ranch owner, Charlie McMurtry, great uncle of Larry McMurtry
of "Lonesome Dove" fame, told of his earliest efforts at winter-feeding
range cattle. It
seems the cotton gins of the
area were seeking more profit from processing cotton
and began compressing cotton seed and gin trash retracted from the
cotton into slabs with the seed
oil tying it all together like glue.
The slabs came out from rollers like sheets of plywood about two
inches in thickness. Gin employees broke the hot slabs into large
chunks and stacked them on edge in boxcars for shipment.
When a rancher purchased
a carload of slabs he unloaded them into his wagons and hauled them
to his cake house all the while standing the slabs on edge.
In order to feed the cattle,
ranch employees reloaded their wagons, making sure they had axes
and hatchets along to break up the slabs into smaller pieces to
distribute the feed more evenly among the cows.
McMurtry would laugh and tell how on the feed grounds, each cow
would pick up the biggest chunk of feed she could carry in her mouth,
run off to the plum bushes and gnaw around the edges maybe all day
until the piece was finally devoured, just like a coyote with a
He built a somewhat centrally located cake house about three miles
south of today's ghost town of Rockledge,
which had a sidetrack for the Rock Island Railroad.
The cake house had a wooden floor raised up to wagon-bed height
for easy loading and was used into the late 1940s. The wagon tracks
leading away from the early day cake house to the outlying feed
grounds of the ranch can still be seen today.
When winter feeding cattle was proven to be profitable the demand
for cottonseed cake skyrocketed. The feed evolved from slabs to
cubes and ground into meal form was transported in jute sacks holding
100 pounds and testing some 50 percent protein in content.
At first all feed was hauled in wagons. Next came light trucks and
finally, as roads improved, tractor-trailers were used to transport
tons of cubes to the ranches.
Every old-time cowboy
I ever knew could tell stories by the hour about hearing the air
horns of semi-trucks loaded with cake arriving just at dark or 2:30
in the morning to be unloaded into the cake house. Unloading 300
sacks of cake, stacking them up high in small cake houses was no
small feat, no matter how strong you were.
Every cowboy's wife
could recall gathering and counting gunny sacks to sell to the sack
man who came about twice a year to buy sacks. Ranchers
like my father always gave the ranch women the sack money. For most,
it was the only bonus they ever received for their hard work.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" May
25, 2010 Column